Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Twain shall meet...

I think Mark Twain had an innate sense of just how unfunny America once was. All those sepia tones and bed bugs and moonshine hangovers bred a stern national flatness easily spotted in photographs and letters of the day.

Twain could crack himself up because clearly he was from the future. In his adopted era he set out to brainwash citizens into giving themselves permission to laugh. And because one laugh wanted another, he had to teach all the awful joke tellers what they were doing wrong in his essay, "How to Tell a Story."

"There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind -- the humorous," he writes. "The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it."

For you toe-tappers who can't abide Twain's meandering, porchy musings you might cut to the chase with: "How to tell a joke like Mark Twain in 4 steps." Honestly, I'm not sure all these rules still stand in 2012 though. The world seems way less chalky and attendant.

But you've got to hand it to a guy who said this a hundred years ago: "To string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently unaware that they are absurdities, is the basis of the American [humorous] art."

 This assessment rings as true today Between Two Ferns as it did once in Extracts from Adam's Diary.


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